Hours after accusing the Legislature of moving too slowly to bring Maine into compliance with the federal “Real ID” mandate, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill Thursday that would have helped several hundred veterans obtain passport cards so they could continue to receive medical care at a military base in New Hampshire.

In his veto letter, LePage said that although he agrees with the sentiment of the bill, the Legislature should “speedily pass” another bill that brings Maine into full compliance with the federal Real ID law because veterans are only one group of many being affected.

“Business owners are reporting that their truck drivers cannot deliver goods to military installations,” LePage wrote in his veto message. “There are also reports of first responders unable to attend training at secure federal buildings. Of course, if Maine does not become Real ID compliant, then Mainers will not be able to use their state identification to board domestic commercial flights (beginning in January 2018).

“Unfortunately, this bill only fixes a small portion of the problems presented if Maine does not become Real ID compliant.”

In 2011, LePage signed into law the statute that prohibits Maine from complying with the federal mandate. A bill to repeal that law now is moving through the Legislature, but the narrow relief for veterans was passed on an emergency basis and would have taken effect immediately.

Under the federal Real ID law, Maine driver’s licenses and identification cards already are no longer accepted for entry at some federal buildings and military bases, including a Department of Veterans Affairs health clinic at Pease Air National Guard Base in Newington, New Hampshire, where about 500 veterans from southern Maine go for services.

The governor’s veto message also states that the state Bureau of Veterans’ Services doesn’t have the capacity to determine financial eligibility for veterans needing state help in getting a passport card.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, said LePage is making a political point at the expense of veterans who need help.

“What this is really about is the governor is more interested in using these 500 veterans as a political tool to try and force a vote on Real ID compliance rather than actually solving the damn problem that they are facing right now,” Golden said. “We are not pawns for political football.”

Golden is a Marine Corps veteran who served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

VETERANS CAUGHT iN THE REAL ID FIGHT

The bill vetoed by LePage, L.D. 213, would set aside $15,000 to pay for passport cards for veterans who, as of Feb. 1, have been unable to use their Maine driver’s licenses to access the Pease base. The bill was intended to provide immediate relief to the veterans from Maine who are caught in the middle of a fight between the state and federal governments.

Maine is one of four states that have refused to comply with the federal mandate, which established minimum security standards for state-issued identification cards in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. The other noncompliant states are Montana, Minnesota and Missouri.

Unless the state acts, Maine driver’s licenses will no longer be a form of identification accepted by the Transportation Security Administration for boarding a commercial flight on Jan. 22, 2018. The license also won’t be accepted for entry to federal buildings, including those run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security already has begun denying access to some federal facilities, such as military bases, nuclear plants and certain federal offices, to those whose driver’s licenses aren’t Real ID compliant.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat, and some civil libertarians have opposed having the state conform with the Real ID law, saying it puts consolidated personal data at risk and has little impact on terrorism or illegal immigration.

LePage wants the Legislature to approve L.D. 306, which would repeal the state law prohibiting Maine from complying with the Real ID requirement. The bill passed a legislative committee last week, but has yet to receive any votes in either the House or Senate.

Earlier Thursday, LePage criticized the Legislature and Dunlap for not moving faster to bring the state into compliance with Real ID, saying the delay was hurting a group of veterans who can’t gain access to the VA clinic in New Hampshire.

“That’s another issue that is really starting to bubble up and I’ve been very concerned about. Unfortunately, the secretary of state and the Legislature aren’t moving fast enough to solve the Real ID problem,” LePage told WGAN radio hosts Matt Gagnon and Ken Altshuler during his weekly appearance on the show Thursday. Gagnon and Altshuler were working to raise funds for the Veterans Count organization, and LePage was speaking on veterans issues.

LePage failed to mention that Golden’s bill had been sitting on his desk for the past eight days, waiting for his signature to make it law. Governors have 10 days to either sign a bill into law or veto it. If they do neither, the bill becomes law without the governor’s signature.

DISPUTING GOVERNOR’S JUSTIFICATION

Golden said LePage’s justification for the veto made no sense, since LePage’s own budget proposal includes a $375,000 appropriation for the Bureau of Veterans’ Services to help veterans who fall into financial hardship. Golden noted that the bureau is going to have to determine financial eligibility to distribute that aid.

“They keep saying one thing and then turning around and saying something completely different,” he said. “How hard is it (to determine financial need)? You ask a veteran to sign an affidavit, to show you a printout of their bank account, to show you they need the help. This isn’t rocket science.” Golden said if the Bureau of Veterans’ Services didn’t have the “capacity” to do the work then that should be fixed as well.

“Feeling as though you can’t figure out how to solve a problem or implement a law to help veterans is not justification for complete inaction,” he said. “You build the capacity. It’s called ‘mission accomplishment.’ I know the people at the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services know what that means.”

L.D. 306, the bill authored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, that would repeal the state law prohibiting Maine from complying with the Real ID mandate, likely will go before the full Senate for a vote next week.

The Legislature also will have an opportunity in the days ahead to override LePage’s veto of Golden’s bill, which passed 110-8 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate. A two-thirds majority is needed to override the governor’s veto.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog